Nunn School Alumna Becomes the Marine Corps' First Female Ground Combat Battalion Commander

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Jessica Palacios
Marketing & Event Coordinator
Sam Nunn School of International Affairs
Georgia Institute of Technology

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In 2000, Lt. Col. Michelle Macander graduated from Georgia Tech's Sam Nunn School of International Affairs with a bachelor's degree in International Affairs.

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  • Nunn School alumna Lt. Col. Michelle I. Macander giving a speech during the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendelton’s change of command ceremony. (Audrey C. M. Rampton/U.S. Marine Corps) Nunn School alumna Lt. Col. Michelle I. Macander giving a speech during the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendelton’s change of command ceremony. (Audrey C. M. Rampton/U.S. Marine Corps)
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In 2000, Lt. Col. Michelle Macander graduated from Georgia Tech's Sam Nunn School of International Affairs with a bachelor's degree in International Affairs. Within a year after commissioning as a second lieutenant in the Marines, the September 11 attacks happened, leading to the War on Terror.  

"I think studying the theory and history of international affairs helped me to make sense of the US and multinational response that I became a part of," said Macander. "It also made me more effective at working with other nations' militaries, comfortable living and working abroad, and a better, more open-minded leader of the diverse group of Marines I would serve alongside."

During her career, Macander has served in many roles, including a Marine Officer Instructor, Operations Officer, Commanding Officer for the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, and now the first female Ground Combat Battalion Commander. 

"In my time as a student at Georgia Tech and ROTC, I learned self-reliance and discipline, both skills that have served me well over my 20-year career, and that made me ready to serve as the first female commander in a Marine Division."

Time at Tech

Macander, who was born and raised in New York, decided to enroll at Georgia Tech because she wanted to attend a technical school in a new place. 

"Atlanta was very different from my suburban, upstate New York upbringing, but I loved being in a vibrant city, and I definitely enjoyed the southern hospitality," said Macander.

During her time as a student, she stayed busy by running cross-country and track, working on campus, and joining the Navy ROTC. Her decision to move from the athlete dorms into the freshman experience dorm helped her meet other students, including Katie Rodgers, a Nunn School alumna, who would later convince her to change her major. 

From Chemical Engineering to International Affairs

Macander, who began as a Chemical Engineering student, changed her major to International Affairs when Georgia Tech moved from a trimester to semester system between her sophomore and junior year, causing her to lose credits. 

If she remained in the chemical engineering program, she would have needed to stay a fifth year to complete the required Navy ROTC classes. 

"My roommate and good friend Katie Rodgers was in the Nunn School and knew I was struggling with the decision, but helped make a case for me that it was a challenging, exciting program that fits well with my goal of being a Marine Corps Officer," said Macander. 

Moving in this direction meant that Macander could graduate within a reasonable time and begin her career with the Marines. 

"The Nunn School program proved much more valuable as a Marine Corps officer than an engineering degree would have," said Macander.

Advice to Students and Future Officers

Seek mentors: "I would not be where I am today if I wasn't blessed with incredible mentors from the moment I stopped by the NROTC building my freshman year. Captain Aaron Potter (retired as a lieutenant colonel) was the Marine Officer Instructor at Georgia Tech who helped me earn my commission, and whose voice I still hear reminding me to push myself out of my comfort zone, but to always be humble."

Step out of your comfort zone: "My advice, no matter the occupation, would be to work hard and know there might be sacrifices to be successful and not to be afraid to do something new and challenging. I had the choice of commanding a unit that I had served in before and knew inside and out the comfortable choice, or the unit I ultimately requested."

 

Written by Jessica Palacios and edited by Nunn School student Maria Winstead.

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Additional Information

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Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy (CISTP), Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs

Categories
Alumni, Policy, Social Sciences, and Liberal Arts
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Keywords
marines, alumna, military, Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts; Sam Nunn School of International Affairs
Status
  • Created By: jpalacios9
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Oct 30, 2020 - 9:21am
  • Last Updated: Oct 30, 2020 - 10:03am